When the last Dismemberment Plan album came out in 2001, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and smartphones didn’t exist. But technology isn’t the only thing that’s changed; over the course of those same 12 years, band frontman Travis Morrison joined a church choir, worked in ad ops at the Washington Post and the Huffington Post, moved from Washington, D.C. to New York and got married.
Yet this year, as the cult-favorite D.C. band is finally reuniting for a new album, Morrison is also launching a tech startup. Right now, his service Shoutabl is a simple way for musicians to set up a website, but it aspires to become the social network for DIY music scenes.
Morrison and his Shoutabl co-founder Travis Donovan met working at the Huffington Post while Morrison was Director of Commercial Development and Donovan was Executive Editor of Editorial Products & Social Media.
“We were really kind of spiraling towards each other,” says Morrison. After spending two-and-a-half months frustrated from hacking together his own band’s website using WordPress, Morrison got an email from Donovan with an idea for a simplified web publishing service geared towards musicians. Coincidently, right around the same time the CTO of the Huffington Post let go of Morrison’s team of developers.
“Literally my six-man team came up to me and were like, ‘What are you doing these days?’” says Morrison, “So within three weeks, we had a development team working on it and we were hammering out the details.”
The two Travises left the HuffPo and have been working on the service, which is now in private beta, since January with five developers, three of which are also former former Huffington Post employees.
Shoutabl is a simplified publishing service and commerce platform that enables artists to run their business from one place. They can aggregate and push out content –- news updates, tour dates, music videos, and new songs — to and from various social media sites; like a direct-to-fan hub.
With so many social media platforms available, why is a website still important to artists? Because it’s where you can sell things.
“At the end of the day, it’s awesome if your band has a million likes on Facebook — but that’s Facebook’s community. And you’re not making money off of them on Facebook,” Donovan explains. The ability to make your music a sustainable business is something every band dreams of, Morrison says. “Rock and roll is a capitalist thing –- it’s American. Bands are small businesses and that’s part of the thrill.”
In about five minutes, the pair set up an attractive and mobile-optimized website, using the band Diarrhea Planet as an example. Fans of the Nashville band may have first heard of them through the Twitter feed of another punk band, New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus, or after seeing them on tour with Brooklyn band the So So Glos. “The very first fans artists get are other artists,” says Donovan. It’s that exact kind of inter-band community and connections that the Travis’es hope to foster and represent online.
Beyond providing an easy way for artists to set up a website and publish content, they hope to build more features into the product that will enable artists to connect with each other as well as fans.
The Internet abolished many of the geographical restrictions to cultivating a music scene, but in return it has only offered fragmented tools with which to re-create and form new scenes online. Shoutabl wants to enable easy interaction between bands with overlapping members or who just want to support each other.
“We aspire to be the social network that can depict the Venn diagram of collective creation,” Morrison says. Like one band passing out flyers for another, Shoutabl makes it easy to share updates across platforms. So Morrison can share updates from his other band, The Burlies, through the Dismemberment Plan’s Shoutabl, giving the posts a larger reach.
Providing direct-to-fan artists tools has become an increasingly crowded market alongside services like TopSpin, ReverbNation and Bandpage, but the The Travis’es contend that there is no social network that represents how collectives of artists operate and work together and always have in real life. “There is no one even close to the network we have in mind,” says Donovan. “Bandcamp has the barest glimmer of the community aspect, but it’s more of a commerce platform,” says Morrison. This isn’t Squarespace for bands.
Donovan isn’t shy about acknowledging that their vision is ambitious, but notes because of their news publishing background and experiences as musicians themselves, “We are in a very well educated position to attack this… ”
“We’re stupid enough,” Morrison interjects with a laugh.
And as for the new Dismemberment Plan album, “Uncanney Valley,” it’s out on Oct. 15 on Partisan Records, and it’s their first release in the age of music streaming services. “Maybe for the plan it’ll work to not have the new record on Spotify for six weeks, two months, but fuck yeah we need our catalog on Spotify –- we’re an obscure catalog artist,” Morrison says. “For me as an artist, I would always want to give people the possibility of going down to rabbit hole of my catalog.”
Morrison is optimistic about potential of music industry, though he wouldn’t call it that, “It’s like it’s not even an industry anymore. It’s kind of gone back to some weird gold rush with people grasping at straws in an energetic way. It’s hallucinatory. Like a kaleidoscope of new potential products –- small, big –- but you have to be a fucking genius to assemble them all into a coherent toolkit.”
And Shoutabl intends to provide that toolkit artists need to run their businesses and connect with other artists, so they can stop focusing on code, and get back to making music.